The family of British journalist Dom Phillips said they are “heartbroken” that he and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira have been murdered in the Amazon.
Mr Phillips’ UK-based loved ones released a brief statement in tribute to their beloved Dom and Mr Pereira after Brazilian authorities said on Thursday two bodies had been recovered from a remote location after their prime suspect confessed.
Brazil’s justice minister Anderson Torres said the remains were found near where the pair disappeared on June 5, while a federal investigator said fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, had confessed to shooting the men.
In a statement, Mr Phillips’ family said: “Early this morning we were informed that two bodies have been recovered from a remote location after a confession from one of the men in custody.
“We are heartbroken at the confirmation that Dom and Bruno were murdered and extend our deepest sympathies to Alessandra, Beatriz and the other Brazilian family members of both men.”
Police were led to the site where human remains were recovered after a 10-day search.
Investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said the fisherman told officers he used a gun to kill the pair and then led them deep into the forest to where he buried them.
Mr Phillips’ family said: “We are grateful to all those who have taken part in the search, especially the indigenous groups who worked tirelessly to find evidence of the attack.”
The bereaved relatives intend to issue a fuller tribute and their “perspective on the courageous lives and important work of these remarkable men” but for the moment are trying to deal privately with their grief.
They asked for privacy from the media.
Mr Fontes told a press conference in the city of Manaus that police “would have no way of getting to that spot quickly without the confession”.
The remains are expected to be identified within days, and if confirmed as the missing men, “will be returned to the families of the two”.
He said the bodies were found nearly two miles into the woods and that rescue teams travelled for about one hour and 40 minutes on the river and another 25 minutes into the woods to reach the burial spot.
Federal police said more arrests will soon be made.
Leading environmentalists said they were “shocked and saddened” by the killings and called for the Brazilian authorities to fully investigate.
Greenpeace UK’s executive director Pat Venditti described the pair as “brave, passionate and determined men” who had carried out the “vital work of shining a light” on the daily threats Brazil’s indigenous peoples face in defending their land and rights.
Suggesting the murders are the latest in a series of attacks that have turned the Amazon into “a vast crime scene”, he added: “Enough is enough.
“The world must wake up and take every step to bring the intolerable violence and repression happening in the Amazon to an end. The greatest tribute we can pay Bruno and Dom now is to continue their vital work until all of Brazil’s peoples and their forests are fully protected.”
WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said: “We stand with our colleagues in Brazil in condemning their murder and this lawlessness in one of the most precious and fragile landscapes in the world, home to thousands of indigenous people.”
Foreign Office minister Vicky Ford tweeted on Thursday: “We will continue to provide whatever support we can to Mr Phillips’ family at this deeply distressing time. My thanks to Brazilian authorities for their help and engagement.”
It comes after former Tory prime minister Theresa May insisted the UK must do “everything it can” to press Brazilian authorities to uncover the truth about the disappearances.
Mrs May made the plea on Wednesday to Prime minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons after police arrested a second suspect.
Mr Johnson said Foreign Office officials are working closely with Brazilian authorities.
He said: “The minister responsible has raised the issue repeatedly, the search and rescue efforts, with Brazil’s justice and public security minister and what we told the Brazilians is we stand ready to provide all the support that they may need.”
Earlier, the Brazilian ambassador to the UK apologised to Mr Phillips’ family after they were incorrectly told his body had been found.
According to The Guardian, the family received a call from an aide to the ambassador early on Monday, saying their bodies had been discovered tied to trees in the rainforest.
However, Mr Phillips’ brother-in-law, Paul Sherwood, confirmed to the PA news agency on Tuesday that ambassador Fred Arruda had written to the family to say the statement was incorrect.
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